people having video conference at a table
Finding the right video conferencing system will facilitate productive meetings. — Getty Images/Cecilie_Arcurs

Video conferencing can be an efficient and cost-effective way to connect with customers, business partners or vendors. It’s also a great way to connect with far-flung employees or colleagues and it allows for more engagement than a conference call. It won’t be long before a growing business needs to choose a video conferencing service.

Choosing the best video conference provider can be daunting. There are a lot of great video conferencing services that run the gamut from free to relatively expensive.

If it’s just you and you need to connect with a customer or two, Google Hangouts or even Apple’s Facetime may fit the bill. But, at some point, many small businesses will need to make a professional video presentation or have regular video conferences with teams or clients. For that you will need a reliable service with a simple interface that is easy to use. You’ll also want to consider scalability, integration and the ability to record and store meetings.

This video conferencing guide will walk you through:

  1. The basics of video conference services
  2. The various options available
  3. What to consider when comparing video conferencing services

The basics of video conferencing

Capacity. Google Hangouts is a great service if it’s just you and a couple of colleagues collaborating. However, unless you plan on staying small forever, you may wind up with satellite offices and clients in other markets, or even other parts of the world. If you have big goals, consider a service that is equipped to handle several participants.

Picture and sound quality. If your video conferencing includes just you and your small team, it might not matter much if your video feed lags or if you get some pixelation. However, you will need better quality as your conferences begin to include clients and other offices. A good video conferencing service can contribute to the quality of your calls, but having good broadband is even more important. You need at least an upload speed of four megabits per second (Mbps) to send a video signal out on a video conference. Most broadband services are faster downloading than uploading because we consume more content than what we push through the pipeline. If your internet service provider offers a business option boosting upload speed, it may be worth the investment.

Real-time private and group chats. This could be a valuable feature when making pitches or presentations to clients from remote offices. Texting colleagues on a call isn’t always reliable as their cell phones might be muted or back at their desks. The message is more likely to go through within the video conferencing platform via a private chat to a teammate or group of teammates. Think about how often you have needed to have an offline conversation during a call when considering this option.

Ability to share files. It is likely there will always be a document to share or an item to review during a presentation. This feature could also add a new dimension to your business, allowing you to add webinars or provide product demonstrations for new and prospective clients. Sharing files and presentations allows you to show off your service, not just talk about it.

Download vs. cloud-based or app-based services. Some services require participants to download software. WebEx, Skype and Zoom are a few examples. Asking your team to download a program for video conferencing isn’t a big deal, but asking clients to do that is another matter. Keep in mind who you will be meeting with when deciding on which platform to use.

Ability to record and archive conferences. This is not a standard feature with all services. There may also be limits to how much storage you have and how long you can keep a call saved on the host company’s servers. Look at pricing plans and shop carefully.

Usability across operating systems. Practically every device from your laptop to your smartphone has a camera that allows for some kind of video streaming or calling, which means it is compatible with nearly every video conferencing platform, but not all. Fortunately, you can test the different services to make sure the system works with your hardware and software.

Choosing the best video conference provider can be daunting. There are a lot of great video conferencing services that run the gamut from free to relatively expensive.

What to consider when comparing services

  • Customer service. When moving into the realm of larger conferences with multiple participants, file sharing, recording and archiving, you may end up needing some kind of support. Customer service usually comes with an added cost, but is always worth it. Check customer and product reviews when picking your service.
  • Cost. Basic video conferencing services usually start with a free version and increase to a few hundred dollars per month depending on the features being offered. A number of services also offer free trials, so you have the opportunity to take a test drive before making a commitment. Consider how often you plan on using the service and how many features you will need before choosing a plan.
  • Hardware. Small-scale meetings involving a handful of people can probably get by with the computer-embedded camera, speakers and microphones. As groups get larger and it becomes more important to have professional presentations, you will likely need to invest in external microphones, speakers, cameras and video displays. Microphones and speakers may be the most important and overlooked items in a video conferencing system, because meetings can occur without video but they can't occur without sound.

In the end, one of the best ways to decide which service is right for your needs is to take advantage of the free trials offered by many video conferencing services. After a few meetings, you will have a better sense of whether it will serve your needs. Knowing what’s available helps you ask better questions and hopefully keeps you from buying features, software or equipment you really don’t need.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published February 25, 2019